Part 2: Top 10 Small Business Lessons I Learned on the Bike Trail
April 18, 2017
Published by Robin Suomi, MBA, and Founder of Startup to Growth, LLC.
More of My 10 Small Business Lessons I Learned on the Bike Trail (Part 2 of 2)
Small business coaching lessons are everywhere! My goal in the summer of 2016 was to bike 30 miles on the Northern Virginia trail system, despite not being an avid biker and the 98+ degree weather. To further set the stage, here’s the introduction from Part 1, which gave Tips 1 through 5:
I began biking on a local railroad trial in the summer of 2016 to get back into shape. While on the trail enjoying nature, pushing myself to my limit, taking longer and longer rides, renewing my biking skills and reaching my personal goals, I was stuck by how much the lessons I was learning on the trail mirrored the small business lessons I have learned and regularly share with my clients as they 1) launch or 2) grow their businesses. It is no surprise that they all surround planning – either planning my bike outings or small business planning.
We pickup with Tip #6!
6. Understand Skunks
BIKE: Okay, we are back to animals. Hey, it’s a ride through nature and Mother Nature has a lot to teach small business owners! Have you ever run up against a skunk when you stopped at the water fountain or for a snack? Be prepared! The secret to dealing with skunks is: Don’t startle them! Be very still, let the little guys (or their entire family) explore, sniff, figure you out, determine you are not a threat, and then they will typically just wander away. In other words, understand and respect them. Skunks are not out to harm you unless you threaten them. On the trail, you are in their world, not the other way around. If you startle them or scare them, they’ll spray you. You really never want to go there. Hint: Tomato juice did not work for me.
BUSINESS: In business, you sometimes meet a skunk and intentionally try to scare it off, or threaten it. Bad move. What you should do is identify it as a skunk, try to understand it, figure out if it is really out to harm you. Like on the trail, if it is a “skunk”, it will not harm you unless you needlessly threaten it. Communicate with the “skunk” and if at all possible find common ground. Then you can each decide to actually work together (most times a great solution!) or go your separate ways, neither the worse for wear. That’s a win/win, either way. Being sprayed by a skunk who simply does not know you mean them no harm is not pleasant. Avoid it. Become an expert communicator and work on understanding skunks.
MEGA HINT: Did you notice I said the skunk is not out to harm you “…if it doesn’t feel threatened”? It’s all about the skunk, not about you. Same thing in business. When you are having a business conversation, meeting someone new in a networking event, etc., always remember that it’s all about THEM and not you!
7. Train Wisely – Start with Short Rides
BIKE: You don’t start on Day 1 riding 100 miles. You train to ride 100 miles. On a short ride, it is survivable if you don’t take enough water, don’t have the right snacks, or get the inevitable sore muscles. You build up your stamina, you learn the topography of the trail, where the hills and shade are, where the benches and water fountains are located. Over time you build strength, endurance, stamina, your body of biking knowledge, and can begin to laugh off the sore muscles and little discomforts you get on the trail, knowing you are closer to your goal with each bike ride.
BUSINESS: In business, training can be equated to experience. And remember, there is no shortcut for experience in business. When you start out, you believe you can win the world. And you can, over time. You can do that 100-miler,but not on Day 1. You will learn over time that your…..fill in the blank – target market, pricing, sales projections, expected expenditures, hiring process…..whatever — was wrong. You will adjust and move on, wiser for the experience. Failure is not failure if you learn from it. You build up your “business muscles” and body of experiential knowledge as you continue to own and successfully run your business. Before you know it, you are biking the 100-mile ride! (Century Bike Ride in my future? Hmmmm….maybe!)
MEGA HINT: Ask for help when you need it. Running your business alone can be exhausting. Consider hiring a qualified small business coach or joining a small business mastermind group.
8. Know thyself
BIKE: When you know yourself and plan your bike ride in a way that is more pleasurable for you, you are playing to your biking strengths and are more likely to reach your goal. Do you prefer to bike alone? Well, take the standard safety precautions and bike on. Will you bike longer with friends? No problem, form a biking group and get moving. Do you like to bike the hardest part of your ride first, say the uphill part, and then the easier downhill portion last? Do you prefer morning or evening biking, sunny areas or shade, multiple road crossings and traffic or more rural terrain? Whatever you prefer, know your biking strengths, use them and reach your biking goals.
BUSINESS: You have strengths in business, too, and it is important that you are very aware of them. With clients, I often start with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Most people associate this exercise with corporations. I believe it might be even more important for small businesses to conduct a SWOT analysis! Once you identify your internal strengths and weaknesses, the external opportunities and threats, you can begin to formulate an action plan to leverage your strengths into the opportunities you see, shore up against your weaknesses and guard against your threats. And shoring up your weaknesses does NOT mean you need to spend enormous time, money and effort to turn them into strengths. They can remain your weaknesses, and that is fine. For example, let’s say marketing is your weakness. Realize that, own it, and outsource it. Just sayin’. Should you also take some local seminars or workshops about marketing? You betcha. I’m simply saying don’t go out and get a marketing degree because you have identified that marketing is a weakness. Knowing yourself, through a SWOT analysis and other activities, will help you play to your strengths, reaching both your business and personal goals.
9. Keep Your Bike in Great Working Order
BIKE: If your bike breaks down on the trail and you are in the middle of nowhere, that’s bad. Make sure you are keeping your bike in good mechanical order and are getting it adjusted and tuned up on a regular basis. Also, just in case, keep a fully charged cell phone with you at all times!
BUSINESS: The same holds true in business. Keep your business in good working order by having a business plan and updating it regularly, making sure you keep your financial and corporate records organized, having your policies and procedures written down (and using them!), making sure your legal foundation in good order, ensuring your insurance is current and up to date, and having appropriate human resources procedures in place, and…you understand what we’re talking about here. There are many more areas that need to be in good working order, but this is a good start. Keep your business running like a well-oiled machine, or a well-adjusted bike.
10. Plan your Ride Ahead of Time
BIKE: What this all boils down to is don’t just wake up one day and say you are going to bike 100 miles. You check the weather ahead of time, make sure your bike is in great working order, have water and snacks, decide if you are going to bike by yourself or with friends, decide on your route, maybe take along a snake bite kit, and start your training. Enjoy your journey and reach your goal! Maybe I’ll see you on the trail!
BUSINESS: The same goes with business. You typically don’t wake up one morning, quit your job and start a business. You will start out by exploring different ideas, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, knowing the opportunities and threats associated with that business idea. You will set some short-term goals and objectives – actual tasks you will complete, with clear and measurable outcomes and deadlines. This is your Pre-Launch or Startup Action Plan. In business, always seek the right support to help you 1) start your business, or 2) grow your business. And you will know there is no substitute for experience. Through time, with support and a ton of effort, along with a huge dose of fun, you will execute your plan, perfect your product/service, get the right pricing in place, create your unicycle marketing, hire the right people and ensure your business is in great working order. Before you know it, you will be out-biking the gnats, reaching your goals and completing your Century ride!
MEGA-HINT: This is where a qualified small business coach can help you shine. With a small business coach who has operated small businesses and has the proper small business training and education, you will gain an outside perspective, you will be able to become really clear about your goals and desires, about what you truly want to achieve with your business. Small business coaching is a safe place to brainstorm, to receive unbiased feedback, and to be held accountable. If you prefer working in groups, small business mastermind groups can help you start or grow your business.
11. Enjoy the Trip!
BIKE: Well, okay, I can’t count. There are really 11 lessons I learned on the bike trail. At the end of the day, it is truly only worth it all if you enjoy the journey, not just reach your destination. My biking over the summer, my planning, setting goals, training, achieving my goals, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, learning from my mistakes, increasing my strength and stamina, all led me to know I was doing the best I could. I enjoyed the ride. It was as much a mindset as it was a physical experience.
BUSIENSS: I think the same lessons apply in small business. Write your business plan, get your strategy in place, gain experience, learn from your mistakes, adjust, move on, build your business to what you want it to be. Don’t go it alone. Seek assistance from a qualified small business coach or join a facilitated mastermind group. And the most important part? Enjoy the journey!
I hope these small business tips, or lessons from the bike trail, have made you smile and made you think of ways to improve your small business. Let me know if I can help you along the way. You can reach me at Robin@startuptogrowth.com with any questions or comments. I look forward to hearing from you! And check out our small business programs, many of which are delivered online, at www.startuptogrowth.com.
About Robin Suomi, MBA, Founder of Startup to Growth, LLC. Success is rarely accidental. My passion is helping my small business clients move from concept through growth (many surpassing $1M in sales), unleashing their vitality, innovation and creativity as they launch or grow their successful and sustainable companies according to their vision. For over 10 years I have helped thousands of small business owners launch and grow their dreams through 1-1 and group small business coaching, technical small business consulting, mastermind groups, business plan classes, and other educational programs. As an adjunct professor, I taught Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management and Business 101 courses. Our services are delivered online and in-person.
In the spring of 2017 I will be launching a How to Start Your Business Successfully webinar, which will educate potential small business owners about starting their own business. It will be a refresher course for the rest of us!